Monday, June 1, 2015

Pecha Kucha Chickens

This weekend, I had the pleasure of presenting at Pecha Kucha Champaign-Urbana, Vol. 18. A Pecha Kucha (Japanese for “chit chat”) is a presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and you talk along to the images. My topic was City Chickens, and was basically just a riff on what I write about here: why I think chickens belong in cities, and what I’ve learned about them in my first year as a chicken tender.

I began by listing a few of the negative things I’d heard about chickens when I was trying to get the ordinance changed--that they were stupid, that they caused disease, that allowing people to keep a few backyard hens would pit neighbor against neighbor and cause all kinds of complaints. I tried to show that chickens are definitely not stupid, and talked about how researchers studying chicken communication have identified at least 25 distinct vocalizations--including one alarm call for predators that approach from above (like hawks) and a totally different call for ground predators, like foxes. I talked about how chickens are social animals, and how the “pecking order” governs daily life in the flock.

I also talked about how the history of the modern chicken is intricately linked to human history--people have been keeping chickens for more than 10,000 years. And yet, in 21st century America, few people are lucky enough to get to know any chickens up close and personal, since most of the 10 billion chickens in the US are kept on factory farms, in flocks of 50,000 birds or more. If chickens have become disease agents, it’s because of our practices, not theirs.

So, I reasoned, chickens do belong in cities, and not just because it’s good for them, but because it’s good for us. Far from alienating me from my neighbors, having chickens has actually helped me build community in a myriad of ways: by giving away eggs, showing neighbors my coop, organizing coop tours with other chicken-tenders, and connecting with lots of folks I never would have met otherwise.

It was fun to talk with people afterwards, many of whom had great chicken stories of their own, and I really enjoyed getting to meet the other presenters and hearing their presentations. That night alone, there were talks about ghosts, public art installations, Godzilla movies, body image, cucurbits (that’s a fancy word for gourds), aviation, and paper made from agricultural waste. I love the democratic, bottom-up nature of the Pecha Kucha--anyone who has an idea or a story can propose it.
I’ll definitely be attending the next Pecha Kucha on July 18--and I’m hoping to persuade that Environmental Almanac guy Rob Kanter to present!

Today I also started planning this summer’s Tour de Coop, so will write more about that next time. 
In the meantime, here’s a recent photo of the girls enjoying some leftover rice (last night they got to try their first baked potato). 

Turns out they like starchy foods as much as I do!

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